Mature audiences care about words

The language we use to talk to our audiences can make or break our credibility.

And with the disposable income of the over 50s calculated to be a significant catch, it’s worth taking time to think about the right words.

The BBC recently asked its audience about the language that they didn’t like. This was followed up in a major social media group, who identify as Radio 4 listeners who aren’t all middle-aged. (But they probably are.) A vast generalisation is that this audience is reasonably well educated, and while accepting that language evolves, still want ‘good’ English from communicators, that’s not simply a stream of buzz words.

Here are a few of the terms that were mentioned repeatedly as enough to throw your radio out of the window. If they excite that much wrath, they won’t be working to the good in your marketing communications either.

Going forward. First example of an unnecessary complication. Just because it’s used everywhere doesn’t make it right.

So … I’m guilty of this one, but it drives others nuts. Starting sentences, or even completely new topics, with ‘So’ is a habit that can get far too much.

Pre-book, pre-order, pre-prepare. My contribution. Who decided to put that pre- on verbs that are perfectly adequate as they stand? It annoys me enough that if a theatre or bookshop invites me to pre-anything, I don’t on principle, even if I want to. (We mature people can be like that.)

Very unique. It either is or it isn’t.

Quite unique. See above.

Was stood. Was sat. This is the passive voice. That means if I was sat, someone else has sat me there. Otherwise I was sitting. People like me do get very exercised over this, and it doesn’t matter that it’s ubiquitous and the argument is that it should therefore be accepted. It hurts when we see it written down. Admittedly, this does also come under the heading of regional differences, which is a completely different matter.

The verbing of nouns. (See what I did there?) As someone pointed out, ‘medalling’ seemed to become a word at the 2012 Olympics. Now the practice is everywhere, and we don’t like it.

Low hanging fruit. Just one example of phrases that get thrown in without deep thought, and therefore is seen as lazy. It’s also verging on marketing speak, which we don’t want in our consumer communications, thank you very much.

Room 101. Like ‘low hanging fruit’ it’s a contagious phrase that has spread everywhere. Other examples are available.

World beating. Dislike of this one is a criticism of a certain type of politician who thinks all of life is a competition. The danger of anyone else using the term is guilt by association.

World class. I come across this regularly in B2B marketing. Not anywhere as bad is ‘word beating’, but what does it actually mean?

Killer app. What do they kill?

Off of. Uggh.

Literally. Regularly used when the writer means anything but literally. I literally laughed my head off.

Challenges. I was quite surprised that this offended some. We talk about ‘challenges’ in B2B marketing because no one wants to talk about ‘problems’. I have been in the business long enough to remember when IBM said there are no such things as problems, only opportunities. I have no idea if people believed them.

It is hard to use the language of a group of people to which you don’t belong. I do understand. I struggled with writing for millennials on a car insurance project, and had to call on help from some current 20+ friends to take the patronising out of the copy.

It’s important to get the tone right for any audience. Mature consumers can be a demanding bunch, so checking your communications meet their approval is a worthwhile task.

Read more of my thoughts on copywriting for businesses of every size.

Visit my website for families with older relatives and friends.

Photo by Artem Beliaikin from Pexels.

No disrespect. Writing about older people

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Four years ago I started editing a website offering advice and shared experience for the family and friends of older people.

The content was a mile away from my usual diet of B2B and B2C marketing communications. And here was the problem. It required a completely different approach in the voice that we use.

Most of my “day-job” B2B clients want to appear professional and approachable without being over-friendly. They want to be enthusiastic without being over-zealous. And the B2C clients want a tone that defines their brand and appeals to consumer aspirations.

This project is quite different. There are plenty of topics here that come under the label of “eurgh”. We believe we can’t ignore them, so we approach at least some of them with a  dollop of humour. After all, it’s the grimaced smiles that get us through some of the darker days.

The trouble with the humour is that it has to sit alongside pieces that are just truly heart-rending, and we never want to offend or belittle the traumatic stories that some of our readers have to tell.

So we take it gently. We need to show respect to our readers who have volunteered to tell their stories of life with ageing and frail parents.

We always aim to be useful. We want our content to be  illuminating, enlightening and offer an opportunity to talk. We treat people’s stories and their pain with the honour they deserve. But when we have permission to smile and turn on the humour to get us through, we do.

How much do labels matter?

hands-typing-6In the three years that I’ve been writing in the “eldercare” community the thought behind use of language has changed significantly.

Perhaps the biggest change is that people who talk about “suffering from” a condition are chastised. We don’t suffer any more apparently – we live with dementia, Parkinson’s disease, arthritis and other diagnoses. This is part of a bigger trend to be more positive in our use of language. That’s a good thing, as long as we don’t use language to pretend a problem doesn’t really exist.

Take the issue of older people feeling that sometimes they are a burden to their family as their challenges grow. I’ve been castigated for the use of the word “burden”. That’s one I would argue about. We can’t stop using a term that people feel for themselves. It’s not really helpful.

On the other hand I was at a meeting of professionals in the care industry where someone suggested that it’s time we re-thought the word “care”. Why? Because it fills people with fear. They don’t want to see themselves as someone who needs care at home or even might have to retire into a care home at some stage. Much better I agree is to talk about providing people with “support” to continue living their lives as much as they can where and how they prefer.

Another one that makes sense is differentiating between “carers” and “caregivers”. The word carer tends to be used to cover all possibilities but professionally carers are people who are paid to provide services at home or in a care home. Caregivers can be thought of as all those family members and friends who provide support and help without payment.

Describing this population can be fraught with difficulty too, especially in a marketing sense. Want to be found? You probably need to use words like “old”, “elderly” and “eldercare”. Want to turn off your audience? Use those same words.

A good read: Words to use and avoid around dementia. Written by people living with the disease.